Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin
Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

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Discovering Ancient Greek and Latin

10.3 Word ending in English

Although English uses word order to indicate subjects and objects, traces of something like nominative and accusative cases are still visible in English personal pronouns. That is to say, English personal pronouns operate like Greek nouns because their role is indicated by their form.

In the following example, to change the subject and object, you must change not only the word order but also the form of the pronouns ‘I’ and ‘he’.

English personal pronouns as subjects and objects

I love Persephone → --> Persephone loves me.

He loves Persephone → --> Persephone loves him.

Activity 49

Do other English pronouns besides ‘I’ and ‘he’ change form when used as objects?

Answer

Yes.

SubjectObject
Ime
hehim
sheher
weus
theythem

‘You’ takes the same form whether it is subject or object, but the archaic form ‘thee’ (subject) becomes ‘thou’ when used as an object. Note also the relative pronoun ‘who’ (subject) and ‘whom’ (object). These examples are remnants of what was once a more widespread use of cases by English nouns.

You have already seen that the use of word endings in Greek allows the order of words to be less rigid. This occurs in English too, especially where personal pronouns are involved.

Activity 50

In what order are the subject, verb and object in the following sentences?

Part 1

1. With this ring I thee wed.

a. 

Subject – Verb – Object


b. 

Subject – Object – Verb


c. 

Object – Subject – Verb


The correct answer is b.

Answer

I (subject) thee (object) wed (verb).

Part 2

2. Two massy [i.e. massive] keys he bore of metals twain.

Milton, Lycidas, 110

a. 

Subject – Verb – Object


b. 

Subject – Object – Verb


c. 

Object – Subject – Verb


The correct answer is c.

Answer

keys (object) he (subject) bore (verb)

The golden rule when shifting English words into unexpected positions is to keep the meaning of the sentence clear. The use of subject forms (‘I’ and ‘he’) and object forms (‘thee’) helps to clarify the meaning in the above examples, in spite of the unusual word order.

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